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Overworked Pitchers – Fallacy or Fact

Posted By Christopher Rowe On Aug 17 2011 @ 1:39 pm In Philadelphia Phillies | 2 Comments

Last night’s Arizona-Philadelphia effort could be taken either of two ways. One would be that Phillies starting pitchers are overworked because Charlie Manuel is afraid to go to his bullpen. Another possibility is that baseball is an unpredictable game where the best team might not win because the other team got lucky or grabbed a clutch hit or a blimp fell on the stadium preventing the outfielder from catching the final out. It happens. Not often but it happens.

Arizona’s first baseman Lyle Overbay lined a two-RBI double off Roy Halladay in the ninth inning to lift the Diamondbacks to a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night. Halladay (15-5) had retired 12 straight batters into the ninth. The 2010 Cy Young Award winner was trying to become the NL’s first 16-game winner, despite allowing consecutive singles to open the inning. Overbay hit a one-out double to right that silenced the Citizens Bank Park crowd and helped Arizona win the opener of this three-game series between two NL division leaders.

Overbay knocked in all three runs as Arizona won its seventh straight game – which puts the Diamondbacks two games up on sagging San Francisco in NL West standings.

“It’s a good situation,” Overbay said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better.” The 34-year-old Overbay was released last week by Pittsburgh after hitting .227 with 8 HR and 37 RBIs in 103 games. He was originally drafted by Arizona in 1999 and played with the Diamondbacks from 2001-03. Now Overbay and his underdog teammates find themselves in a divisional race despite being picked last in many preseason models.

Meanwhile the Phillies have the best record in baseball and boast an 8-game lead over their next-closest competitor in NL East. The four-time NL East champs are gunning for their third World Series appearance in four years and would like to cap this run with a second world championship to pair with their 2008 title.

Halladay tied a career high with 14 strikeouts and tossed his seventh complete game of the season. This spurs the secondary argument about Phillies starting pitching being overused. In a world of pitch counts, bullpen specialists and 13-man pitching staffs, the art of the complete game seems to be going the way of the do-do.

Among all MLB starters, the leader in IP is Justin Verlander (202 IP in 27 starts). American League starters generally lead this category because they are not subject to being lifted for a pinch hitter in late-inning close games (DH). That aside, the top 3 are AL pitchers while Roy Halladay (184.2 IP) ranks fourth. Chris Carpenter (8th with 178 IP) and Clayton Kershaw (9th with 175 IP) are the only other NL pitchers in the Top 10. Cliff Lee (172) and Cole Hamels (172) are tied for 11th on this list – where Hamels will stay due to a dead arm.

 

RK PLAYER TEAM

GP [1]

IP [2]

SO [3]

W [4]

L [5]

WHIP [6]

ERA [7]

1 Justin Verlander [8] DET

27

202.2

204

18

5

0.88

2.31

2 CC Sabathia [9] NYY

26

190.2

175

16

7

1.14

2.93

3 Felix Hernandez [10] SEA

26

186.1

176

11

10

1.19

3.38

4 Roy Halladay [11] PHI

25

184.2

177

15

5

1.05

2.53

  James Shields [12] TB

25

184.2

173

11

10

1.03

2.83

6 Dan Haren [13] LAA

27

183.1

148

12

6

0.97

2.95

7 Jered Weaver [14] LAA

25

181.1

153

14

6

0.97

2.13

8 Chris Carpenter [15] STL

26

178.1

142

8

8

1.32

3.68

9 Clayton Kershaw [16] LAD

25

175.2

193

14

5

1.03

2.72

10 Ervin Santana [17] LAA

25

174.1

143

9

8

1.14

3.1

11 Cliff Lee [18] PHI

24

172

177

12

7

1.09

2.83

  Cole Hamels [19] PHI

25

172

155

13

7

0.99

2.62

13 Ian Kennedy [20] ARI

25

170.1

142

15

3

1.11

3.12

14 Brett Myers [21] HOU

26

167.2

123

3

12

1.37

4.72

  David Price [22] TB

25

167.2

158

10

10

1.13

3.76

16 C.J. Wilson [23] TEX

25

167.1

153

11

5

1.23

3.28

17 Justin Masterson [24] CLE

26

167

127

9

7

1.17

2.69

18 Ricky Romero [25] TOR

24

166

141

11

9

1.14

2.87

19 Daniel Hudson [26] ARI

25

165.1

125

12

8

1.26

3.76

20 Matt Cain [27] SF

25

165

134

9

9

1.1

3

 

Halladay, who also struck out 14 batters April 24 at San Diego, had again dazzled in front of the usual sold out crowd at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies, an MLB-best 78-42, lost for the first time in Halladay’s last 11 home starts.

He struck out the side in the fifth and eighth against the NL West-leading Diamondbacks and had his 14th career double-digit strikeout game. Halladay even atoned for a rare balk with his leadoff double in the seventh, his first career extra-base hit. He was batting .075 (4 for 53) entering the game and was hitless his first two at-bats.

Halladay threw 123 pitches and had one intentional walk. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel never considered yanking Halladay in the ninth.

“It’s kind of his game, isn’t it?” Manuel said. “He’s my ace. If I was going to make a move, I’d do it to start the inning.”

Offensively, Halladay never before had to hustle to second base on a swing of the bat. Halladay hit a high fly down the right-field line off the wall against Collmenter in the seventh for the double, but was left stranded at third. With the Phillies trailing 1-0 in the fifth and after Rollins had singled, Victorino lined his 13th homer into the right-field seats for a 2-1 lead. That was seemingly all Halladay needed. He was on top of his game in the eighth, fanning Kelly Johnson, Willie Bloomquist and Ryan Roberts on curveballs in the mid-70s. His first balk of the season in the fourth was his only miscue – until the ninth – but that might have happened even with a designated hitter.  

“It can be a little tougher to swallow sometimes in the ninth then if you get blown out in the third,” Halladay said. Halladay is realistic as should be Manuel and the fans. Don’t blame fatigue because ten extra pitches had to be thrown or because Halladay had to run the bases. These are trained athletes, not fragile octogenarians out there! Thoroughbreds are groomed and bred to run, not to save themselves. Conditioning for any athlete comes from training muscles to endure through extreme trial and error and progressing over time.

Pitchers are the most well-conditioned among all baseball athletes as they have regiments for running, throwing and even for off days. Most have strenuous offseason conditioning programs to remain in peak physical condition and pitchers generally arrive at Spring Training far ahead of the hitters. Before they reach the Major Leagues, pitchers are generally the best natural athletes – often proving their hitting prowess in addition to their talent for tossing the baseball. Through the minors and into the Majors, pitchers learn terms like pitch counts, off days and saving yourself for game day but generally, pitchers are competitive athletes just like their teammates. During batting practice, pitchers have home run hitting contests and Phillies pitchers are especially competitive. Cliff Lee has two home runs in 2011 and leads his fellow Phillies pitchers in their season-long bet to see who can notch the most dingers over 162 games.

In previous times, starting pitchers were expected to finish games by going 9 or 10 innings. Bullpens didn’t even exist until the 1940s and 1950s and most of the time “relievers” were inserted only when the starting pitcher had been shelled for ten runs and the game was out of hand. Bullpen corps evolved over the years from being “mopup men” to “firemen” coming to the rescue to save games that could still be salvaged and offering a fresh fireballer rather than encouraging the spent starter to simply suck it up and get the job done. Four man rotations and expectations to finish what they started used to foster 30-win seasons and 300+ IP as standard fare. As recently as the 1970s, the best pitchers in baseball still exceeded 300 IP. In 1971, four Baltimore Orioles pitchers (Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, Jim Palmer and Dave McNally)posted 20 win seasons – with three of them exceeding 280 IP (McNally posted just 224). In 1973, Nolan Ryan set the single season strikeout record at 383 with a 16 strikeout effort in 11 IP – and that season he totaled 326 IP. Over 27 seasons, Ryan averaged 232 IP and 246 strikeouts – including three 300 IP seasons and 6 seasons with 300 strikeouts or more. Since 1908 (modern age) Christy Matthewson holds the record with 37 wins for a season (1908 NY Giants). However, the last 30-win season was in 1968 by Denny McLain (31-6) – when MLB reduced the height of the mound. The Year of the Pitcher (8 pitchers had ERA under 2 runs, while 50 posted ERA better than 3.00) resulted in the lowest league batting averages since The Dead Ball Era (only six players posted averages above .300).

The save as a statistic wasn’t even official until 1969 as expansion of the 1960s and the lack of pitching depth led to the need for expanded pitching staffs (from four to five-man starting rotations) to supplement lack of rotation depth. The save was invented in 1960 by baseball writer Jerome Holtzman (Pittsburgh Post Gazette). When Holtzman presented the idea to JG Taylor Spink, publisher of The Sporting News, he was given a $100 bonus. Holtzman recorded the unofficial save statistic in The Sporting News weekly for nine years before it became official in 1969. It was MLB’s first new major statistic since the RBI (runs batted in) was added in 1920.

My advice to those who believe in pitch counts as a panacea for all that is wrong with modern baseball is to treat this like any other successful endeavor in life. Do what works and stick with it. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Nine innings is supposed to be a difficult challenge for major league pitchers but not impossible – and not subject to limitations of 100 pitches. Sometimes 88 pitches gets a pitcher through 5 innings or 12 and other times 150 pitches seem reasonable. Managers and pitchers and pitching coaches know what they are doing. Fans (as a general rule) do not. Fans are not privy to workout regiments nor are we there for conversations behind closed doors or on the field. Let them play. Let them play. Let them play.

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URLs in this post:

[1] GP: http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/pitching/_/sort/gamesPlayed

[2] IP: http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/pitching/_/sort/thirdInnings/order/false

[3] SO: http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/pitching/_/sort/strikeouts

[4] W: http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/pitching/_/sort/wins

[5] L: http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/pitching/_/sort/losses

[6] WHIP: http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/pitching/_/sort/WHIP/order/false

[7] ERA: http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/pitching/_/order/false

[8] Justin Verlander: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/6341/justin-verlander

[9] CC Sabathia: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/4553/cc-sabathia

[10] Felix Hernandez: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/6194/felix-hernandez

[11] Roy Halladay: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/3973/roy-halladay

[12] James Shields: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/28474/james-shields

[13] Dan Haren: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/5565/dan-haren

[14] Jered Weaver: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/6479/jered-weaver

[15] Chris Carpenter: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/3610/chris-carpenter

[16] Clayton Kershaw: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/28963/clayton-kershaw

[17] Ervin Santana: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/6280/ervin-santana

[18] Cliff Lee: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/5353/cliff-lee

[19] Cole Hamels: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/6216/cole-hamels

[20] Ian Kennedy: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/28864/ian-kennedy

[21] Brett Myers: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/5017/brett-myers

[22] David Price: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/28958/david-price

[23] C.J. Wilson: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/6311/cj-wilson

[24] Justin Masterson: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/28977/justin-masterson

[25] Ricky Romero: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/30025/ricky-romero

[26] Daniel Hudson: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/30376/daniel-hudson

[27] Matt Cain: http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/6202/matt-cain

[28] Subscribe to author's RSS feed: http://www.prosportsblogging.com/author/cprowecomcast-net/feed/

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